Jack White insists that fans hand in their phones before a show so they can have a “100% human experience”. Prince had men on stage armed with flashlights to blind anyone holding up their mobile. And, even less subtly, Nick Cave has been known to call out people who insist on watching the gig through a lens.
The 1975 have taken a different approach. Knowing that their average fans document their lives online, the band have devised what can only be described as the most Instagrammable arena show ever. The dextrous, genre-fluid musicians are dwarfed on three sides by giant versions of the empty picture frame that’s become an integral part of their visual identity.
The one at the back swings up into the ceiling when it gets in the way of the three massive floating cubes that, covered on all sides in LEDs, are part-time spotlights, props for the two vigorous backing dancers to interact with, and multidimensional screens to embellish the ever-changing imagery on the gargantuan video wall.
Incisive lyrics are splashed over footage of humanity’s worst moments during an aggressive ‘Love It If We Made It’. A wall of blinking eyes lights up the slinky ‘Girls’. The scrolling New York City street scene of R&B groover ‘Sincerity Is Scary’ complements lead singer Matty Healy walking on a travelator. Rainbow clouds bring home the message of ‘Loving Someone’. Negative reviews (“TERRIBLE HIGH-PITCHED VOCALS OVER SOULLESS ROBO BEATS”; “THIS BAND THINKS IT HAS A CHARISMATIC SINGER”) flash up in all caps throughout a foot-stomping rendition of ‘The Sound’.
‘Somebody Else’ sees the backdrop transformed into a seemingly endless corridor of neon-pink rectangles. And ‘The Ballad of Me and My Brain’ has Healy rising up on a platform before stepping into the video wall, creating the illusion that he’s inside an iPhone.
The visual overload is as relentless as the audience’s attempts to record it. And yet, for all the device screens lighting up the arena, the fans are completely immersed in the live experience. Cheers of utter joy greet the opening notes of every single song, no matter whether it’s new, old, indie-rock, glitchy electronica, shimmering disco, or swaggering hip-hop. Adoring screams meet every “How are you doing?” Healy drops during songs.
Spontaneous singalongs erupt with every anthemic chorus. During ‘The Sound’, 20 000 people jump in unison with an enthusiasm usually only seen at Iron Maiden shows. And nothing, not even a sax solo, or a noodly new song without much of a chorus or lyrics (‘How to Draw / Petrichor’), prompts a rush to the toilets.
But never is that immersion more apparent than during a sensational ‘I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)’. Not a single (yet), it’s the last track on an album that came out less than two months ago. And yet, when Healy steps away from the microphone, the masses take over, unprompted and word perfect.
Clearly overwhelmed by the response, he struggles to keep it together. And in that moment of shared adoration, it’s clear that despite all the tech on display, tonight is about that personal connection – that thing Jack White described as a “100% human experience”.
If rock and roll really is dead, as the text on screen declares during ‘Sex’ (their most urgent, rock and roll song), its spirit certainly lives on in The 1975.
The O2 Arena
18 January 2018
Photography by Jordan Hughes
- This article originally appeared in RockShot Mag.